Shane Cynamon, a 2019 graduate of Bridges Academy, is currently working on his PhD in Anthropology at UC Davis. This is an excerpt from his thesis, Neurodiversity in Education: Practices, Theory, Challenges.
When my family sent me to elementary school, my teachers told my parents that I would never be able to write my own name. When I first entered middle school, I was told not to expect to go to college. When I applied for colleges, many told me that I should apply only to community schools because they doubted my capacity to achieve success at a four-year institution.
Throughout my educational experience I have wanted to be seen and understood for my talents rather than my deficits. The opposite has been the case. I think my experience is by no means unique. The education system has trouble understanding neurodiverse students like myself.
When I first entered Bridges Academy at 12 years old, I found that in some ways it was like any other school. We had sports teams, a bell system, lockers, etc. But, although we had bells, they were designed with special tones so they would not disturb students with auditory sensitivity. Although we had lockers, they were not assigned to particular students. Most importantly, the ethos of the school was different.
In each class, instructors gave me explicit compliments about what I was doing well, rather than what I was failing to do properly. I noticed this right away because I had heard so few encouragements from my teachers before that point. I already knew what I was bad at; I was deeply aware of, and at times embarrassed by, my limitations. But I did not yet know what I was good at. The teachers at Bridges brought my strengths to my attention right away.
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